Thursday, 28 April 2011

Joan of Arc (1928) Adrian Utley, Will Gregory live at Southbank Centre

This was the first time I'd seen Carl Dreyer's "Joan of Arc" and taking in both the film and the new score from Utley, Gregory, choir and orchestra was a challenge.

But I'd gladly sit down and watch the whole thing over again.

The film is one of the most striking ever made (silent or otherwise) and is essentially a montage of close ups with great skill required from the actors to pitch emotion at the right level. No one is more in control of their expression than Renée Maria Falconetti who gives a performance of searing simplicity and spiritual power.

The fact that the film is based on the court transcripts of the 1431 trail makes Falconetti's performance all the more moving; this was a real person of, literally, amazing intellect and personality. Any recreation of such a figure could so easily go wrong but this film has a surity of step and firmness of vision that it works on every level; docu-drama, christian epic, proto-feminist - whatever you're looking for, it's here.

Carl Theodor Dreyer directed other great films, most notably "Vampyr" made a few year's later, but Joan feels more modern and more connected than this later work. Maybe it was the score but, more probably, it's Falconetti and the film's cohesive visual boldness. It is truly stunning.

As for the music...well I like Goldfrapp and, especially Portishead, but this was a little different. "Like Godspeed merged with the choir from Doctor Who..." said my mate Dave and he was right. Adrian Utley led an array of guitars, Will Gregory sat at the keyboards next to a harpist and flanked by a powerful choir and brass section, all conducted by Charles Hazlewood.

The score was perfectly judged and as Gregory says, had to complement the emotion on screen by being occassionally lighter in tone but always subordinate to the drama. It worked very well and, as with Godspeed you Black Emperor (... if you've never heard of these Canadian wonders then look here!) the collection of guitarists provoked an unsettling energy that was multiplied by the power of the choir.

It would have worked very well as a concert perfomance but as a score it provided a unique and very involving combination, almost overwhelming at times but, as with the film, perfectly judged, knowing when to knock you gently or otherwise.

I'd highly recommend this performance when they play it again (this is now confirmed as the Brighton Festival on 29th May, details here) and would willingly buy you the DVD release which it is to be hoped is soon forthcoming!

There's an interesting documentary on the writing of the score on YouTube.

And, there's a Criterion Collection DVD set their work too!


  1. Sounds marvellous, I have never seen any kind of interpretation of Joan of Arc, but this has me intrigued!

  2. I remember this sad event well and often cannot bear to think that my countrymen could inflict such barbarity. But that was the way we did things then, forsooth. However, your recommendation leads me to think that I shall find a friendly "television" owner who can let me see this for myself. It will bring back memories, verily.